In ‘The Great Food Truck Race,’ Cleveland’s Hodge Podge is So Close & Yet So Far

By KATHY CARR | Crains Cleveland

Cleveland’s Hodge Podge Food Truck won the heart of “The Great Food Truck Race” challenge that aired Sunday night on The Food Network show’s season 2 finale.

Chef Chris Hodgson said his team actually completed the final trial of selling $15,000 before competitor Lime Truck, but in the end, Hodge Podge’s selling location in Miami proved too costly.

The food truck from California commanded the final part of the challenge, which after reaching $15,000 in sales was racing to the predetermined location at which host Tyler Florence would be standing, with the $100,000 prize.

After a three-day challenge, Lime Truck beat Hodge Podge to the $100,000 by eight minutes. Mr. Hodgson said his truck’s selling location was further away from than Lime Truck’s and was unable to first reach the prize.

“Cleveland’s still is No. 1,” Mr. Hodgson said during a viewing party Sunday night at Fahrenheit in Tremont. “We’ve gotta keep doing great things for Cleveland. This is our hometown.”

Mr. Hodgson said the series brought him closer with his sister, Catie; and his girlfriend, Jacquelyn Romanin, who were his co-participants.

“Always put faith in the people who are behind you,” Mr. Hodgson said.

“The Great Food Truck Race” kicked off earlier this year in Malibu Pier and proceeded through cities such as Denver, Memphis and Atlanta, before ending in Miami.

Hodge Podge and seven other food trucks from around the country battled for supremacy through the coast-to-coast itinerary loaded with challenges that only the most skilled and pliable participants could master.

Think foraging in the woods for mushrooms and knowing how to harvest the eatable ones from their poisonous cousins, before preparing a creative menu with very little time.

Or beginning the day with no allocated seed money for groceries and having to quickly scrounge through the host city’s unfamiliar restaurants for enough ingredients to serve thousands of patrons.

Or maintaining food-selling action — and robust sales —when Mr. Florence demands each truck’s chef vacates the vehicle and leaves the operation to the other two assistants.

The show’s format began with a “truck stop” challenge that required each team prepare a dish with certain predetermined ingredients. Local chefs judged the dish, and the winning team members earned a prize — usually seed money — for groceries. Trucks then were challenged with selling as much gourmet food as they could to each city’s residents and were thrown many curveballs during the frenzy, which sought to steer each truck’s momentum off course.

At the end of each episode, the truck’s sales each were tallied, and the team with the lowest sales went home. In fact, New York’s Korilla BBQ was disqualified for cheating and consequently saved Hodge Podge — the truck with the lowest sales during Episode 5 — from heading home.

TV time

The Food Network continues its focus on Cleveland, this time with a “docu-series” co-hosted by Fahrenheit chef Rocco Whalen.

Producers began filming in Cleveland on Saturday, Sept. 17, and will continue to traverse various city locales through Tuesday, Jan. 17, Mr. Whalen said.

He was mum on the details, but said the series will begin airing in February.

Mr. Whalen and seven other chefs from around other eastern seaboard cities such as New York and Washington, D.C., were cast for the series that aims to highlight each respective community’s assets.

“My segment is about culture, Cleveland and community,” Mr. Whalen said, noting that he’ll be showcasing other local suburbs and businesses throughout Northeast Ohio.

“It’s a goodwill series, and we’ll be promoting Cleveland and all its landmarks,” he said. “I’m honored to be a part of it.”